help-to-buy: mad, bad or dangerous?

Today Chancellor George Osborne's Help-To-Buy scheme is back under the spotlight, with leading economists questioning whether it will help or hinder the housing market. Is it a good idea? The answer, it seems, depends very much on who you talk to.

The programme, designed to help first-time buyers and those wanting to climb the housing ladder, is in two strands: one offers buyers the chance to take an interest-free loan from the government; the other, to be launched in January next year, sees the Government acting as guarantor for some of a borrower's debt.

In April, the loan scheme was extended from first-time to all buyers, who need only a 5% deposit, with 20% coming from a Government loan and a 75% mortgage from a bank or building society.

As fears grew about the eligibility and credit worthiness of those applying, yesterday Mr Osborne promised stricter testing of those who can afford mortgages and a ban on second home purchases through the scheme.

Today, however, the Institute of Directors (IoD) described his plans to revive the market as "mad", claiming it could drive up house prices. The IoD's chief economist Graeme Leach went so far as to call the scheme "dangerous".

House builders, on the other hand, see it differently: they cite the fact that already the scheme has stimulated buyer interest with increased visitors to sites and reservations up by 20%.

For Brian Bassett, Managing Director of Greenbelt Group Ltd, it is responsible behaviour from all parties that will determine the ultimate success or failure of the scheme.

"The economists have expressed degrees of concern that Mr Osborne's plans could fuel another housing bubble," says Mr Bassett, "but that is not the intention of the Government: it is their intention to galvanise a moribund housing market.

"House builders see it differently. This plan enables them to increase supply by building more homes on the sites they already have open and gives them more confidence to invest in new sites. The result is more choice to the buyer and more jobs and economic activity locally. No one wants to see a return to the boom and bust culture of the past. It is in everyone's interest to have a stable market, with buyers taking that major step to buy a property as a home, not as an investment.

"However, buyers should also be confident of maintaining their property's value into the future – that's why Greenbelt continually look to protect the value of the buyer's property by maintaining and enhancing the communities through the services we provide to residents.

"Ultimately, all of the parties involved – the Government, developers, lenders and buyers – must ensure the Help-To-Buy scheme is used responsibly to sustain a return of confidence in the housing market."